July 15, 2010

Riots in California after police officer who shot dead unarmed black man is cleared of murder

53 arrests as protesters furious at verdict storm the streets

Violent protests erupted in the city of Oakland in California today after a Los Angeles jury convicted a white former transit officer of involuntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man.

Police in riot gear watched over a crowd of protesters as emotions ran high with 500 people marching in the street and 83 people arrested.

Prosecutors had wanted Johannes Mehserle, 22, to be convicted of murdering Oscar Grant. Justice Department officials have announced they will look into whether the case warrants federal prosecution.

Mr Grant was shot as he lay face down on a train platform on New Year's Day in 2009 on an Oakland train platform in an incident that was compared to the 1992 beating of Rodney King.

During protests last night, at least a dozen businesses were damaged, bank windows were smashed, fires were started and a small bomb exploded near a police station but caused no damage.

'This city is not the wild, wild west,' said Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts. 'This city will not tolerate this sort of activity.'

The protests wound down late last night. Police did not release a damage estimate, but the it appeared to be much less severe than the rioting that hit Oakland after Grant was shot.

During the trial, prosecutors said the 28-year-old Mehserle became angry at Grant, 22, for resisting arrest. Grant was shot in the back while he lay face-down. Mehserle claims he mistakenly drew his gun instead of his Taser.

The jury had a choice between second-degree murder and lesser charges of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. The jury found that Mehserle didn't mean to kill Grant, but that his behavior was still so negligent that it was criminal.

Involuntary manslaughter convictions carry a sentence of two to four years, although the judge could add 10 more years because a gun was used in the killing.

The next hearing was set for August 6. During the trial, Wanda Johnson sat most days in the second row of a Los Angeles courtroom less than 30ft from the man who killed her son.

After the jury's finding, Johnson denounced the verdict and let loose emotions that had been mostly bottled up during the three-week trial.

‘My son was murdered! He was murdered! He was murdered,’ she said outside the courthouse.

Shortly after the verdict, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would conduct an independent review to determine whether the case warrants federal prosecution.

The review will be conducted by the department's Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco and the FBI, said spokesman Alejandro Miyar, who declined further comment.

Federal officials planned to begin their review at the conclusion of the state's case against Mehserle, who still faces sentencing.

As Mehserle was placed in handcuffs and taken away, he turned to his family and mouthed: 'I love you guys.'

Govnor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement urging Californians to remain calm and not resort to violence.

Schwarzenegger said he had informed Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums the state was well prepared to assist in maintaining order.

The jury included eight women and four men. None listed their race as black. Seven said they were white, three were Latino, and one was Asian-Pacific. One declined to state their race. They left the courthouse under tight security.

'As we have come to notice, and we as a family has been slapped in the face by a system that has denied us a right to true justice,' said Cephus Johnson, Grant's uncle.

'We truly do not blame the jury, but we blame the system.'

Legal experts said the verdict shows the jury sympathised with Mehserle's version of events.

'It is legally as low as they could go without acquitting him,' University of California, Berkeley, law school professor Erin Murphy said.

Prosecutors had a 'huge hurdle' to overcome in convincing a jury that an officer with a spotless record meant to kill, even with video of the killing, she said.

Mehserle testified that he struggled with Grant and saw him digging in his pocket as officers responded to reports of a fight at a train station.

Fearing Grant may have a weapon, Mehserle said he decided to shock Grant with his Taser but pulled his .40-caliber handgun instead.

Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Stein said in his closing argument that Mehserle let his emotions get the better of him and intended to shoot Grant with the handgun without justification.

Defense attorney Michael Rains contended the shooting was a tragic accident. Mehserle had no motive to shoot Grant, even though he was resisting arrest, the lawyer argued.

By Daily Mail Reporter



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